It should be clear by now that those who are most scandalized and confused by Pope Francis are found within the ranks of the Catholic clergy and among laypeople with a clericalist mentality. They judge the first pope to come from the New World and only Jesuit ever to be elected Bishop of Rome as unconventional and non-institutional, to say the least. And that has little to do with his place of birth or membership in the Church’s largest male religious order. Francis, like the saint from Assisi whose name he chose upon election to the papacy, disturbs his clericalist critics because he is a radical disciple of Jesus Christ. In fact, he is perhaps the most radically evangelical pope since the earliest centuries of Christianity. In the past five years he has tried to free the Catholic Church from its un-evangelical and stubborn attachment to (imploding) institutions and governing structures modeled on Imperial Rome, alliances with socio-political powers that use the Church as much as it uses them and an intellectual-juridical tradition that has seemed, at times, to be more closely tethered to Greco-Roman philosophies than to the Gospel itself. In his latest major document, an apostolic exhortation called Gaudete et exaltat
e, the 81-year-old Francis seeks to bring the Church and its members back to the Gospel basics of what it means to be a follower of Christ — and more pointedly, what it means to live a holy, Christ-centered life.
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